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Bill to increase Council to 48 under discussion

WINDOW ROCK

Legislation for a referendum to decide whether to increase the number of Council delegates from 24 to 48 is moving through the system.

According to the Election Code, the type of referendum being discussed is one that is referred to the people by Council where Council determines by resolution that the people should decide the measure.

However, another type is an initiative, which can be done by any individual asking it to be placed in a special election ballot or included in a major election.

This is not the first time in Navajo Nation history where the number of delegates was proposed to be changed. There is a long history of Council attempting to overturn an initiative to reform the number of delegates.

In May 2000, there was a primary election referendum held to decide the size of Council. Diné voters were given the option 110, 88, 72, 48, 44, 32 or 24 delegates.

The people voted to reduce Council to 24 delegates.

This continued into September 2000 when voters, once again, voted to reduce the number of delegates to 24.

However, due to the way referendum law was written, it would require a majority vote in each of the 110 chapter precincts. The measure failed to achieve this and the effort to reduce Council did not pass.

After this, another long process began to reform Council.

Former President Joe Shirley Jr. formed an initiative and gained petition signatures to hold a special election to reform Council from 88 to 24 delegates.

On July 17, 2008, the Office of Legislative Counsel filed a motion with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court to stop the special election.

The Supreme Court denied the motion and issued an opinion that stated it is the right of the Navajo people to change their government through the initiative process.

Moving forward to November 2008, the Navajo Election Administration ruled that both initiative petitions had insufficient signatures. However, the NEA did not allow the Initiative Petition Committee to examine which signatures were marked as insufficient and why.

During this time, Delegate Edison Wauneka was the NEA director.

Then on May 30, 2009, the Office of Hearings and Appeals ruled the special election can go forward.

Chief Legislative Counsel Frank Seanez said the petitions contained sufficient signatures based on the NEA’s recount.

The special election was held on Dec. 15, 2009.

Eight days after, the Intergovernmental Relations Committee approved $150,000 from the speaker’s budget to oppose the results of the election and gave the president line-item veto authority.

Of course, this was against the outlines of the two initiative questions which specifically stated: “If approved, this initiative may be repealed or amended by the initiative process only.”

This means after the measure is approved by voters, it is officially Navajo law, it cannot be altered or repealed by Council.

The initiative finally passed on June 4, 2010, when the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors certified the election results after being ordered to by the Supreme Court on May 28.

On Dec. 15, 2010, Council once again tried to reverse the initiative and return to 88 delegates. The act of reversal was sponsored by late Delegate Kee Yazzie Mann.

During this second attempt to overrule the reform of Council in 2010, Shirley said if Council wants to change the number of delegates, they will have to go through the same initiative process he went through.

“If they want to change the size of the Council, they have to go through the same process of circulating petitions, gathering enough signatures, having them certified and holding an initiative election,” he said.

During the Law and Order Committee’s special meeting on Dec. 6 of this year, Delegate Edison Wauneka, the sponsor of the current legislation, spoke about the 2008 initiative and said the petition signatures were 2,000 short.

However, it was stated by the Supreme Court that the 2009 election was, “valid and proper,” and Legislative Counsel Frank Seanez said there were enough signatures before the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

In last week’s meeting, there was also no mention of the specific language within the 2008 initiative that stated once it was approved, the law could not be changed unless through an initiative process.

As of right now, the legislation does not contain any language regarding circulating petitions and gathering signatures.

Instead, it states the referendum will go through the Law and Order Committee, the Budget and Finance Committee, the Naabik’iyati’ Committee, then the Navajo Nation Council.

Once it is approved through these entities, it will be put to a public vote.


About The Author

Hannah John

Hannah John is from Coyote Canyon, N.M., and currently based out of Gallup as a reporter for the Navajo Times. She is Bit’ah’nii (Within His Cover), born for Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around), maternal grandfather is Tábaahí (Water Edge) and paternal grandfather is Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water). She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in Native American studies. She recently worked with the Daily Lobo and the Rio Grande Sun.

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